When Alvin Schexnider took over as chancellor at Winston-Salem State University in 1996, he rubbed more than a few faculty members the wrong way. Schexnider ascended to the chancellor’s office with a vision for radically adapting the historically black college to the changing marketplace of higher education.
By 2000 he was gone, five years earlier than he had planned. But Schexnider feels there’s a lesson in this experience for all HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities.) His latest book, “Saving Black Colleges: Leading Change in a Complex Organization,” calls for sobering business-minded alterations to the HBCU model.
“I’m not the kind of guy who likes to nibble around the edges. Change doesn’t have to be radical, but it certainly has to be intentional,” says Schexnider. “I didn’t take the time to develop a management team before I made changes, so when there was a cry, there was no one to take the spear in the chest but me.”
Not surprisingly, Schexnider feels these institutions need first and foremost a strong president, willing to focus the school’s mission toward greater specialization. He also calls for greater creativity in marketing. Specifically, he believes HBCUs need to market themselves to other races.
“I think it definitely needs to part of the business model. Sometimes there’s a lot of resistance from alumni, but in this new world diversity has to be embraced not just at majority institutions,” he says. “You can still be a historically black university and embrace diversity. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.”